1.03.2016

Come to his marvellous light: A Sermon For the Feast of the Epiphany

Having an Epiphany about Epiphany at Epiphany on Epiphany.

When Greg Lynn and I started meeting together to figure out how to start a church community in Peoria we inevitably started talking about names.

Should we pick something traditional, something that sounds old? Or something that sounds new, something that reaches out and grabs today's people?

And what do we want to say about ourselves, about this community that does not yet exist? What would we want to say about the kind of people we are?


I am about 93% sure Greg came up with the name Epiphany himself. The name represents a kind of wedding with the new and the old. It is certainly a very old word, but it is also a bit mysterious, and has taken on modern day connotations, even if people tend not to use it too often in every day life. "I had an epiphany!" people might say. But then again they tend not to. Such a phrase is a bit over dramatic for our emotionally reserved and spiritually skeptical times.

But you can be sure, Greg and I certainly wanted the people who joined our community to "have an epiphany." And so what does that mean exactly? What is this "having" of an epiphany? As with anything work talking or knowing about there are many possible meanings, each fascinating in their own right.

In the simplest form, "having and epiphany" means receiving a revelation of some kind, having something revealed to you or appear to you. It is being in darkness one moment, having a light shine on you the next moment, and then being left to understand all that the light has revealed. A light makes known things hidden in darkness. Without light we are left in the great unknowing darkness. Epiphanies can be anywhere from glorious to traumatic to a mixture of gloriously traumatic. That is, the revelation can be wonderful but it can also be horrifying.

But the word itself has an older meaning, where an epiphany is the manifestation of a god or the visitation of a ruler who is hailed as a god.

When it comes to Church tradition, the Feast of the Epiphany occurs 12 days after Christmas Day, on January 6. It celebrates the wise men from the east visiting Christ at some time after his birth. They used their knowledge of astronomy and Hebrew prophecies and their political influence as prominent figures from wherever they came from to find "he who has been born king of the Jews" in "Bethlehem of Judea". The Feast of the Epiphany is not a sweet little event where these sages decided "Hey, it's Christmas—the first Christmas actually!—why don't we go give Baby Jesus some presents and start some traditions!" The Epiphany is the moment where the whole world came to worship Christ. The great revealing here, the "epiphany", is that this Jesus is the Lord and King and Savior of the whole world. The king of the Jews is the King of us all. In their visitation of gift giving and worship these men from the east are effectively saying "This child is to be not merely a savior to his people, the Children of Israel, but instead a savior for the world." The epiphany is that Jesus is not just for a select nation, a limited ethnic group, but that in Jesus God has come for everyone. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 3:19).

Just like Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter, "Epiphany" is also a season and there are a number of epiphanies in Scripture regarding Christ, these moments when Christ's glory was made know to people. Before we enter Lent we look to John's baptism of Christ in the Jordan and Jesus' first miracle at the wedding of Cana as the other epiphanies of Epiphany. Beyond that, we look to Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain, Peter's profession of Jesus as the Christ, the professions of the centurion and the thief on the cross, the revelation of Jesus to Saul on the road to Damascus, and indeed any time Jesus performed a miracle and anyone came to put their faith in him as epiphanies. Anytime where Jesus manifested himself as Lord and someone's eyes were opened we could say an epiphany occurred.

So, in the most general sense an epiphany is having something revealed to you, of being in darkness and then coming to the light, but when it comes to our faith, having an epiphany means meeting Jesus face to face. It means having God shine his light in your life. It means having direct contact with God. In this more specific understanding of "epiphany" Greg and I very consciously wanted people to "have an epiphany" and wanted our community to be about the Epiphany. We want people to meet Jesus and have their lives changed. We also want his light to shine in our city. We want Christ's light to shine in us, but we also want Christ to shine everywhere through us.

That is what meeting Jesus does to people. It changes them. It makes them give gifts. It makes them immediately worship him. You might say it causes them to loses themselves in worship.

We live in a very ordinary world. A very ordinary time. Violence is ordinary. It is everywhere and it is accepted as a norm. Death is a fact of life we all nonchalantly live with. Towering technological achievement is ordinary. We hold devices in our hands that accomplish tasks previous generations could not conceive of and we primarily use them to get us through the boring moments of our day. We get sick and expect our ordinary medicine to make us better, as if getting better were a default right. It is against the norm to be forced to die. Everybody is ordinary in our world. No one is better than anyone else. We are all equals here. It is offensive to consider someone more special than others, to elevate someone to a place of high standing. Even our presidents are constantly reminded they are "just one us" and have been elected to their office by the people to simply "do their job."

But we long for the extra-ordinary. We look to films to take us to places we have never been before, to help us remember what it was like to be an innocent child and see the world as vast and be able to soar above the world with our imaginations. We look to sports teams and athletes to bring glory and victory and fame to our cities. We look at their feats as near superhuman. Through them we vanquish our enemies and restore justice to the universe. Some of us are in a long held state of advent with our sports teams—they have yet to win the final battle and we wait year after year for them to bring us honor. We search for the deeper and better and more efficient and more transcendent in our foods and clothing and music and cars and golden age TV shows. There is always something greater worth having and knowing; or so we think.

This is what the call to worship can offer us ordinary modern people: a glimpse into the truly extraordinary. The worship of God shatters us. It shows us there is something beyond us that we are called to. It takes us into a realm where we find ourselves in the presence of something truly Great. In the presence of God we are immersed into a vast unimaginable greatness. And yet, the glorious mystery of the Christian life is this greatness has been made known to us in human form. The goodness and greatness of God has taken on flesh and we meet him as a baby, a tiny child, a man. We come into his presence and like the shepherds and the angels and the wise men, we bow and worship.

Notice the language of our greatest Christmas carols. As much as they focus on the story surrounding Christ's birth they always circle back to worship:
"O come let us adore him..." —a resounding call for the adoration of Jesus
"Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing..." —make room for Jesus in our hearts, all of heaven and earth
"Haste, haste to bring him laud" —praise him quickly, don't delay
"Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king" —the angels are prompting us: bring glory to this little child
"Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel has come to thee of Israel!"
"Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy" —in our worship we receive comfort and joy and peace. As those who were in darkness we learn to rejoice as those now in the light, the light of Christ.

My title at Epiphany is "Pastor of Worship." This basically means I am the music pastor and I lead people in the worship of God through music. But it is worth noting that Greg, as our priest, is the primary "worship leader." Nonetheless, we both shoulder those duties. Basically, it is our job to be the best worshippers in the room. The intensity, focus, and quality of our worship has to be a few notches above everyone else's. Honestly, it is too much—focusing on trying to be the best worshipper defeats the purpose entirely. By focusing on the act of our worship instead of simply on Jesus, we cease to worship him.

I often get caught up in this. There is pressure in leading people. The responsibility comes with a weight and often I do not feel the freedom to simply be a worshipper myself. I get lost in trying to do the job right and do it to the best of my ability. To organize the time of worship so that others can be worshippers. This is certainly important, but often I struggle to be a humble rejoicing worshipper myself.

And so this Sunday I want to call us all, myself included, to the Feast of the Epiphany. Come and worship Christ the newborn King. Come have an epiphany. Allow him to reveal himself to you in all his glory. Let your worship take on the fullest emotional, intellectual, and physical form it can take. Get caught up in the glory of God. Lose yourself in the greatness of his coming.

My call is simple today. It is direct. Worship him. Abandon yourself to all that he is.
Let the dry and cracked places be filled with living water.
Let his light shine on your darkness. 
Let the mysteries of God be made known to you.
Come have an epiphany.
And then, as a final act of worship, go be a light to others. Bring the Epiphany to them and call them to feast.

God is the great balancer. The more intellectually oriented among us should feel the call to worship the Lord more with our emotions and our bodies. Those us already more emotionally inclined should feel the challenge to invest more in worshipping with our minds. As the body of Christ we are all made new before him. Allow him to open you up to new ways of knowing him, new ways of worshipping him. The call is always there. Sometimes we worship within our natural giftings and sometimes we worship within our uncomfortable and often ignored weaknesses. Always be open to both sides of the call.

When we meet Christ and are changed by him everything becomes worship after that. Everything we do is a natural act of adoration. It simply flows out of us. It is not a law to which we must be perfect towards and then inevitably fail. It is instead our identity, a law written on our hearts, and if it is who we are it is something we simply do. We worship and we lead others into worship. Having the epiphany we bring others to the epiphany. This is simply who we are. In becoming worshippers of Jesus we become his disciples. And as his disciples we are always worshipping.

With this as the meditation, let us simply come as worshippers again, pouring out our praise in humble, joyous adoration.

"O Come all ye faithful..."
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Other Sermons and Addresses:
Speaking the Truth in Love
We Have a Problem With Authority—A Reflection on Christ the King Sunday
Reflections on the Death of Moses
Plunge into the Glorious Mystery—A sermon for Trinity Sunday
The Two Greatest Cliches Ever Spoken—Graduation Commencement Address 

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